Aquinas Catholic Elementary School held a special dedication ceremony for their new outdoor classroom on September 9, 2022. This classroom was designed for preschool through fifth grade students to experience, explore, experiment, relax and admire nature and the beauty of God’s creation.
“Every time you come out here and weed, plant, learn, and water you are creating with God,” explained Fr. Michael Ventre, Chief Administrative Officer of Aquinas Catholic Schools.
With many different areas in the outdoor classroom, all students find new and exciting ways to explore, play, learn, pray, and study. The centerpiece is a large climbing tree with many climbing branches and a tunnel to crawl underneath. There is one class-sized learning space with additional small groups of ‘tables’ and ‘chairs’ scattered throughout the classroom. All of the ‘chairs’ and ‘tables’ are made from logs cut by volunteers. Other areas to explore include: herb and vegetable garden, sandbox, chalk art boards, and Mary prayer garden.
Aquinas Catholic Elementary Students, donors, and parents were in attendance for the dedication followed by strawberry shortcakes to celebrate Mary our Mother’s birthday on September 8th.
This project began from the numerous studies which prove that outdoor classrooms provide numerous learning and physical benefits for students. Mrs. Mary Coufal, Holy Family Early Learning Center Director, and Mrs. Sarah Zook, Aquinas Catholic Elementary Principal, attended a Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom Workshop in the summer of 2021. Then, Aquinas Elementary teachers Mrs. Rachel Wisnieski (preschool) and Mrs. Alison Fozzard (kindergarten) attended a Diocese of Lincoln early childhood workshop focused on the importance of children getting out into nature. With this information in hand, the lawn just outside the kindergarten wing was an ideal space to transform into an outdoor classroom.
“Until we started looking into nature classrooms, I did not know what a positive, powerful impact they could have on the brain for learning and for peace. It really helps students to be able to focus on learning and charity when they have a solid foundation in the reality and beauty of God’s physical world,” said Principal Mrs. Sarah Zook.
With a grant provided by the Butler County Area Foundation Fund, generous donors, and a few spirit day fundraisers, this project broke ground in the spring of 2022. There are many volunteers that made this classroom possible; please accept our apology if your name was omitted, it was not done intentionally. Thank you: Sloup Lawn Care (Brad & Chana Sloup), Sypal Tree Service (Nick & Chelsea Sypal), Custom Edge Curbing (Ryan & Jake Ruth), landscaping (Paula Dewispelare), garden beds (Trevin Steager), No Swett Fencing, Ken Polacek, Brandon Smith, Jeff & Claire Wisnieski, Jared Dewispelare Family, Dirkson and Easton Kavan. Thank you, teachers: Rachel Wisnieski, Alison Fozzard, Katie Vavrina, and Katie Smith.
The outdoor classroom was ready to be utilized starting the 2022-2023 school year. So far, it has helped facilitate learning in many areas of study, but especially in science and math when they explore the laws of nature. For the younger students, it has helped build fine and gross motor skills.
“My favorite thing to do at the outdoor classroom is to sit and listen to you read,” fourth grader, Harper Meysenburg, told her teacher, Ms. Patricia Koranda.
All students experience real joy when seeing and interacting with nature. While visiting the kindergarten class, the Aquinas Catholic Seniors loved digging in the sand, exploring, and using nets to capture bugs. The giant log has been a popular place for reading and climbing. Not just science classes have been in the outdoor classroom, classes enjoy their Religion lessons while appreciating God’s creation.
Fifth grader Jacey Kudlacek’s favorite part of being amid God’s creation “is the plants and the Mary statue…”